Based on arbitrary calculations and lack of proper evidence, the administration has been recovering money from commoners for property damages.
Musheera Ashraf | TwoCircles.net
NEW DELHI — Away from the spotlight and at a time when the protests against the controversial citizenship act have mellowed down, the Uttar Pradesh government has been penalising people who participated in agitations more than a year ago. According to a series of stories carried by The Indian Express, the state police have 500 issued notices in ten districts asking the accused to pay for damages worth Rs. 3.35 crore. While protests broke out in many states, UP is the only state to have invoked Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act to make people pay for the damages, revealed The Indian Express investigation.
There are multiple reports and video evidence that members of the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu nationalist group also vandalised property but none of them received such notices, per the news report.
“We will take revenge from them by seizing their property,” said Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath after the damage caused to public property during the anti-CAA protests in December 2019.
The protests against the contentious citizenship bill emerged across India but UP remained the most affected state. While protestors alleged that the police opened fire, the police denied it.
The Indian Express report found that in the past years not a single notice has been issued against Bajrang Dal members after their protests turned violent. Reportedly, the Bajrang Dal protesters vandalised the police station and ransacked a police chowki in Uttar Pradesh, and the vehicles in front of the police chowki were set on fire.
The report noted that one of the senior police officers in UP was heard venting out his anger on a particular community telling them to go to Pakistan but no action was taken against that police officer. “Moreover, the FIR was registered against the people of that area,” the report said.
The two cities in U.P in which FIR was registered against the protestors were Lucknow and Kanpur.
In Lucknow’s Hazratganj, 46 individuals were named in two FIRs to recover damages estimated at Rs 64.37 lakh. Each of them was asked to pay the same recovery amount. All the 46 individuals were also booked under IPC Sections 146 (rioting), 186 (obstructing a public official), 152 (using criminal force and deterring public officials from discharging their duties) and breaking curfew imposed under CrPC Section 144, along with provisions of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.
The Indian Express reported that in every case police’s version has been that “video and photo evidence has not been available because protestors damaged three OB vans by burning them and the photographs that were taken were only of protestors in the front line and even those are not very clear.”
In 25 cases, the only evidence for involvement in protests is the person’s name in the FIR. Only in three cases, police relied on evidence such as GPS Location.
Out of 28 other cases, the 10 who invoked the fundamental right to protest and questioned the power of the Magistrate to issue notice were held guilty.
All the 46 FIR’s were analysed by The Indian Express and a copy-paste pattern was identified. Former IPS officer SR Darapuri, social activist Robin Verma and an Alambagh resident identified Pulkit were also named in the FIR. The other 43 were from the minority community.
Syed Saif Abbas Naqvi, a Shia cleric was among nine persons who received recovery notices from Additional District Magistrate (ADM), Lucknow. Naqvi and others were held jointly as well as separately responsible and liable for damages amounting to Rs 67 lakh. The ADM’s recovery order stated that it was “applying the doctrine of joint and several liabilities, since those held liable shared a common object of illegality, whether they acted on their own or otherwise”.
Naqvi has challenged the order. The matter is pending before the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court.
The investigation highlights that people who received recovery notices in Kanpur include rickshaw pullers, hawkers, daily wage workers and a teenager. They paid Rs 13,476 each to the Kanpur district admin.
Unlike Lucknow, the accused in Kanpur were not lucky enough to pin their hopes to any appeals or relief.
No one knows how the administration reached the figure of Rs 2.83 lakh and their share of Rs 13,476. Most of them were scared and told the newspaper that they paid the amount “out of fear” because the police were regularly visiting them. Some of them had to borrow to pay the money. One of the 18-year-old accused had to quit school. His family said he was innocent. Police said they had evidence to implicate him.
Many accused told the newspaper that they paid the amount because they wanted a closure. The lawyer of the accused told The Indian Express that the photograph police produced in court as evidence was not of his client.
Musheera Ashraf is a special correspondent with TwoCircles.net. She tweets at @Musheera_Ashraf.